The instant Rose reappeared in that bleak universe, she knew she’d lost him.
How cliché it was, to say that losing someone you cared about created emptiness; a void. For Rose, it turned out to be more literal than for most.
She hadn’t realised how strong her connection to the Doctor had been until it was violently severed from her. Months and months spent at his side, their bond gently weaving itself, threads of trust after threads of trust, strengthened by affection and companionship…gone.
She hadn’t known.
She hadn’t known that with every touch, every contact of his skin against hers, as small as it may have been, often through clasped hands, he’d seeped within her, as she had within him...his skin colder than hers, yet his mind warmer still.
She hadn’t known, until she was left pressing her entire body against a cold, cold wall, palm splayed upon hard concrete, and she felt nothing but this excruciating absence of warmth.
This absence of him.
She knew he was standing where she stood, a universe away, his hand upon hers…yet there was nothing.
There was nothing.
His breath tickled her skin, until it erupted in goose bumps.
She knew this was a dream, but he was too tangible for it to be nothing more.
How could he be this ethereal, yet cause her blood to flow so quickly through her veins as her heart picked up speed?
Her skin was a minefield of exposed nerves, not just the outside layer of it, but the layer within, too; she felt him in ways she’d never gotten to feel him while awake, before he was torn away from her.
He wasn’t here, and yet he was, rushing, rushing, rushing throughout her body.
He was real, as real as that heat deep within, spreading faster and faster, wider and wider, his warmth scorching every inch of her, as fiercely as she’d once been scorched by the infinite.
He was real, and then, he was gone.
He stood in front of her in his damn brown suit, only inches away from her, yet there was nothing.
Where are you?
She had to ask; even if he hadn’t looked like a ghost, the lack of him told her everything she needed to know.
He was here, but not really.
Her fingers rose towards his face, seeking to reconnect.
Just an image.
Can’t you come through properly?
How could an image hurt this much?
The whole thing would fracture. Two universes would collapse.
She’d known he’d say something like that. He was probably right, too. What she was planning to do was selfish and mad, and yet…
She might have let it go, then; let him go. But she’d asked him what he was going to do.
Oh, I’ve got the TARDIS. Same old life, last of the Time Lords.
If he hadn’t been so honest, she might just have let him go.
But their time was running out, and he didn’t bother pretending anymore.
On your own?
What was the point of being guarded when she was never going to see him again?
When he nodded, the smallest of gesture, she saw his loneliness, even if she couldn’t feel it anymore.
She saw it in the depth of his eyes, in the absence of light.
In the absence of hope.
She saw that whatever time had passed since Canary Wharf, it had scarred him as much as it’d scarred her.
After all, he was burning up a sun just to say goodbye.
She’d made her decision a long time ago.
She’d made her decision long before he’d invaded her dreams and breathed her name under her skin.
And those lonely, lonely eyes?
They were calling her home.
“Come find me,” she told him, as he’d once told her in a dream.
Before his look of incredulity could properly take hold of his traits, she’d brought a hand to her chest, feeling the device she’d concealed under her jacket, and his growing incredulity turned into understanding and dread when she closed her second hand into a fist.
“Rose don’t you-” he uttered.
But just as Dorothy had once clicked her heels and thought ‘home’, Rose pressed the button and thought just the same.
Dårlig Ulv Stranden was colder on this side of the Void.
The thrill she felt when she first opened her eyes and realised her plan had worked did not last long.
Selfish and mad, that was her all right.
Bit of an overdramatic pessimist, that was him, too.
The device had done what it was designed to do; it had found this tiniest of gap, and used whatever energy source it could latch on to successfully send her through the fabric of the universe, back into her own. The Doctor would be able to explain the mechanics of it much better than the team of scientists that had spent the past ten months working on it had, but she’d gotten the gist of it.
‘Your whole body has a very specific signature, a frequency different from this universe; all the device needs is to take hold of that frequency and you will be pulled back. Like a giant magnet.’
Something like that.
Rose was aware that the absence of universes collapsing didn’t mean she hadn’t messed it all up.
The energy source the device had used must have been that sun the Doctor was using in the first place; all she could hope for was that she hadn’t caused a blast so powerful that she’d fried the TARDIS with its lone occupant trapped in it.
She didn’t know how long she spent, standing on that beach, refusing to walk, or to find some shelter from the icy winds. Her only movements had been to look around her and confirm her family was gone, before removing the device from around her neck, turning it off, and pushing it deep in the pocket of her jacket. She stood still, then, arms wrapped around herself, shaking more and more strongly as her body fought to keep hypothermia at bay.
Eventually, she allowed her eyes to close, aware that she would hear him long before she saw him.
She focused on the sounds rather than on her physical discomfort. The waves that regularly and rhythmically crashed upon the shore a few hundreds metres away soothed some of her anxiety, if only by a fraction…until the distant rumblings of an approaching storm joined the mix.
She had no notion of time, hadn’t let herself look at her watch, so afraid to move, but she knew she spent hours, waiting. She did her best to keep calm, telling herself over and over again that this delay didn’t mean anything.
Yes, he had a time machine, which he’d successfully used in the past to reappear in front of her literal seconds after disappearing, but she knew this feat was easier to do when the TARDIS had the exact time coordinates.
He knew where she was, but she had failed to tell him when she was.
The better part of a year might have gone by for her since they’d parted, she’d travelled long enough with him to know that human time was irrelevant on the TARDIS. This goodbye scene could have happened three days after Canary Wharf for him, just as it could have happened five years later.
She doubted it’d been that long. He’d sought her out, had gone as far as sacrificing a sun to give them this last moment.
The grief in his eyes had been too raw.
All she could do was wait; a trembling figure on a Norwegian beach, curled up into herself while she fought to remain upright, teeth chattering inside her mouth. And she strained her ears, begging them to hear that one sound she desperately needed to hear, so much more than the growls of looming thunder.
She couldn’t move.
If she stayed put, stayed still, stayed so very still, only then would he be able to find her.
When the distant whinging, whooshing sounds pierced the air at last, she kept her eyes closed, part of her aware that she might be hallucinating; the brain did things like this under duress.
Everything around her seemed to shift, then, and when the whooshing became a howl, her instincts ordered her to open her eyes and look. She did so, just in time to see a smoking blue box fall from the sky, twirling, swirling.
And a bit on fire.
It hit the ground less than thirty metres away from her with a resonating thump, the earth shaking beneath her feet.
She stared in shock and horror at the roasting sides of the TARDIS, both her hands clasped over her mouth; the spaceship was soon surrounded by a thick cloud of steam, as the moist sand attempted to cool off its overheating base, causing the water to evaporate in a loud hissing sound.
There was a gap in the smoky, steamy veil, one of the doors having burst open. She saw a flash of brown within the fog, and soon heard the familiar noise of a fire extinguisher being put to good use, along with a stream of swear words she was fairly certain were in Gallifreyan.
Once again, Rose couldn’t move, but this time it was due to shock and relief and exhilaration, watching as the Doctor ran around his poor TARDIS to put out the various fires that had sprouted. More than the sight of him, it was the feel of him that caused her heartbeat to triple in speed, her limbs to shake, her throat to constrict.
Despite the distance that separated them, she felt his presence in a way she hadn’t only hours ago, when they’d stood so close to each other on this very beach, a universe away.
She was going home.
Right now, her home was still giving out a fair amount of smoke and steam, although it was quickly diminishing, the sides of it now more white than blue, the foaming substance sticking to the wood panels.
Her other home was jabbering away, and she became aware that his stream of undecipherable swear words had morphed into a rant, one that definitely had her at its centre.
“…so typical of humans, let’s just do whatever passes through our heads on a whim, let’s not care about the consequences even though we were told that attempting anything of the sort would cause a monumental cataclysm and that two entire universes could collapse, never mind using technology that can make a sun implode with me right next to it, noooo all of that is done in good fun and…”
She let him rant, her hands still pressed upon her mouth in a mere attempt to keep herself together, his endless chatter the most comforting of sounds.
She watched as the fire extinguisher gave up on him, the object having released every ounce of carbon dioxide it had to offer. He shook it a couple of times, before giving up, too, having no other choice but to turn and look at Rose, his face set, his gaze cold.
He seemed unaware of the fact that he himself was covered in a good amount of foam – hair included.
“You made that sun implode,” he told her, reproachfully, disappointment clear in his voice. “If not for the TARDIS’ shields and her speedy escape, I would be dust right now. Not to mention the fact that you could have killed billions of people, simply because you refused to stay put and live a perfectly normal human life.”
When he stopped talking, the following silence felt heavy, unnatural even.
All she could do was stare back, stare into those eyes, watch at his jaw clenched, his face refusing to relax. Even from this distance, she could tell he was breathing too fast; a Time Lord out of breath, that was not supposed to happen.
Yet again, travelling across the Void wasn’t supposed to happen either.
Slowly, she let her hands fall from her face, taking a few steadying breaths herself as her heart hammered in her chest.
“Do you…” She attempted, her voice weak, shaky. She cleared her throat, tried again, her teeth still chattering from cold. “Do you want me to go back?”
She wasn’t being serious, of course. It didn’t take a genius to know that the device that had brought her here would never work again – as if any of them wanted it to work again.
The fact was, Rose had made a joke.
There he was, stony, annoyed and a little bit singed, and she was mucking about.
That’s all it took.
She watched as his mask cracked and fissured the way the universes could have but hadn’t. He was throwing the fire extinguisher down, then, swiftly making his way to her, and maybe she moved forward too, or maybe she just stayed put.
All she knew was that one moment she was cold and alone, and the next her body had collided with his, her arms having slipped under his, clinging to his shoulders with her face pressed so hard against his neck, feeling the iron tight clasp of his embrace around her.
He was not warm, no, never had been and never would be, her beautiful Doctor, but he was solid and made of flesh and muscles and bones, and right now, he seemed to be squeezing her to him with every single one of these muscles and bones.
Above all else, that void, that horrible, throbbing void she’d been living with since Canary Wharf, she felt it disappearing; the tighter he clung to her and she clung to him, with her nose pressed painfully against his collarbone, the more clearly she felt him, inside her head, running through her veins.
He was filling up her soul the way the smell of him was filling up her lungs, a mix of fire and ice and ancient meadows.
It took her a while to realise he was talking again, whispering into her hair, more aware of the vibrations of his vocal chords against her skin than of the words themselves. The stream of muffled sounds resembled something close to ‘My Rose, my stupidly, wonderfully human Rose…’
The voice, furious and loud, came as such a shock that they jumped apart, releasing each other completely as they looked for the source of the shout.
She was not hard to find.
Standing in the open door of his ship, her white dress matched quite nicely with the TARDIS, its sides still covered with goo, which was slowly beginning to run down the wood.
“Are you seriously telling me that when you ordered me to stay inside and not touch anything, you were not fixing your damn flying saucer at all but out here snogging some random woman?!”
Although it had been a question, it did not sound like a question at all.
Next to her, the Doctor nearly recoiled, clearly at a loss for words – an extremely rare occurrence. He distractedly brought a hand up to his hair, finally ridding it of the layer of foam that had settled there, causing it to spike.
“Well, I, no, not at all, we didn’t, I just…” he tried, lamely, giving up quickly, letting this angry stranger carry on thinking they’d been snogging – when they really hadn’t.
“Are you taking the mick, Martian boy? You come back in here and take me back to my bloody wedding!”
“I’m not actually a Mar- ” he started just as Rose felt compelled to say:
“Oh he’s not from Ma-”
“DO I LOOK LIKE I CARE?”
“Nope, nope, fine, coming,” he said.
“Oooh I like her,” Rose told him, unable not to grin; all trace of anxiety had left her body, which was overflowing with adrenaline and endorphin.
She knew that it would hit her, eventually, what she’d done and who she’d left behind, but not quite yet.
She had made it back, and as if that wasn’t enough, she’d barely had a minute to breathe before they were off to another adventure.
Just the way she liked it.
“She terrifies me,” he admitted, his eyes still on the Bride, who stood at the TARDIS’ entrance with her hands on her hips, like a disapproving matron.
“Exactly,” Rose said. “C’mon, Martian boy,” she extended her hand, just as thunder boomed overhead. “We got a wedding to go to.”
He looked down at her wriggling fingers, a signature move that was usually his, barely hesitating before taking hold of her hand. And again, he squeezed, as if to make sure she was real, sending waves of warmth and joy through her arm and beyond.
Their gazes met again, and for the first time since he’d joined her, he was close enough for her to actually see the brown of his eyes…which weren’t that brown at moment, his pupils large and dilated.
The moment didn’t last either, as rain started to pour on them all; the Bride let out a welp, quickly disappearing inside the ship in the hope to protect her gown, maybe. Rose let out a sound, too, at the sudden torrential rain, a simple noise of surprise and delight, aware that some of the delirious jubilation she felt wasn’t her own.
Without any further thought, she pulled him toward the TARDIS, almost at a run.
She was not but a metre a way from the ship’s open door when she was forced to halt her movements; the hand she held in hers wasn’t following along anymore, nor was the body attached to it. The Doctor had stopped, and the sudden change of pace caused her to be pulled back toward him with excess momentum, grabbing at his tie as she stumbled a little with a chuckle in her throat.
Her smile froze when she met his gaze, his face much closer than it had been in months. There was no trace of coldness or disappointment in his eyes, only bewilderment and...heat.
He’d apparently decided to ignore the rain or the fact that they were already drenched; she didn’t care for it much either, barely feeling it, too focused on him. Breathing did not get any easier when his free hand came up to her face.
He did so slowly, as if he expected his fingers to go through her, as hers would have gone through him only hours ago, when he was nothing but a projection. Luke-warm skin found her face instead, his palm soon cupping her cheek, and she leaned into his touch with a sigh, craving this tangible contact as much as he did.
His whole body tensed, then, his head jerking away from hers, “Ow ow ow!” He exclaimed, and Rose saw that the Bride’s arm had reappeared; she’d grabbed his ear between her fingers and was pulling him toward the entrance. “Not the ear, Donna, not the ear! Those are perfectly shaped!”
“Am I gonna need to muzzle the two of ya?” The Bride – Donna – asked in reprimand, releasing her grip on the Doctor’s (perfect) ear as they were both finally inside the TARDIS. “I don’t care who she is and what’s going on, I just want to get married!”
“I’m Rose,” Rose felt the need to clarify, already hugging herself, teeth chattering once more.
Now that she’d lost her physical connection with the Doctor, her body didn’t waste any time reminding her that she’d been rather unkind to it today.
“Are you as thick as he is, blondie?” Donna asked, not amused.
Maybe Rose should have been offended by Donna’s attitude and rudeness, but she was too happy to be back here to let herself be offended by anything.
Looking at the other woman’s face, she could almost feel the anguish and stress coming out of her in waves, realising that all this shouting and unforgiving persona was probably nothing more than her defence mechanism.
“He might’ve rubbed off on me a bit, yeah,” Rose couldn’t help but answer, and she and the Doctor shared an identical, idiotic grin, all teeth and twinkling eyes, faces, hair and clothes dripping with water.
“Oi!” Donna went at it again, slapping him on the shoulder, hard. “WEDDING.”
“Ah, yes, wedding, church, vows, flowers!” he babbled, half-sprinting, half-tumbling toward the console. “Sorry old girl. No rest for the wicked.”
“Excuse-me?” Donna bellowed.
“He’s talking to the ship,” Rose explained quickly.
Donna let out another sound of frustration and disbelief, pressing the heel of her hand against her eye as Rose joined him at the console.
As her fingers hovered over the familiar yet forever mysterious panel of levers, knobs and screens, she felt the radiant heat emanating from them; the TARDIS was trying to warm her up, all the while welcoming her back.
I missed you, too, she thought, wholeheartedly.
“What can I do to help?” She asked as she leaned closer to him, until her whole upper arm was pressed against his…along with their hips. “I’m pretty good at pressing buttons,” she dared to add with a bit of a cheeky smile, her tongue between her teeth.
Although he did not smile back when he met her gaze again, he did not move away either, his face a constellation of hope, freckles and rain.
When she felt him returning the pressure, relief trickled down her arm, and went straight into her heart.
“Quite right, too.”